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Disappointment in Charlottesville again after GOP kills another bill banning guns on college campuses

Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed an identical pair of bills last week, disappointing university police chiefs who say the legislation would have helped protect Virginia’s college campuses from gun violence.

They were among 30 bills the Republican governor vetoed on March 26, with his office saying each would have violated the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners.

State Sen. Creigh Deeds, the Charlottesville Democrat who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, said the legislation was crafted in response to the 2022 University of Virginia shooting that left three student-athletes dead and two others injured.

Both bills — the House version was sponsored by Democratic Del. Katrina Callsen of Albemarle County — would have banned firearms from the commonwealth’s public colleges.

Hindsight is 20/20, Deeds said, but had the bills been in effect years ago, it may have prevented the 2022 tragedy.

“We’ll never know. But we have an obligation to fix the loopholes or the gaps that we see. And that’s what this legislation was all about,” Deeds told The Daily Progress.

That legislation would have made it a crime to have a gun at a public university in Virginia in virtually all cases, allowing law enforcement to make arrests, seize weapons and open criminal investigations.

While many universities have policies that prohibit guns, violating administrative policies only results in administrative sanctions, such as suspension or expulsion.

Campus police chiefs, such as UVa’s Tim Longo, have lobbied lawmakers to allow them to impose criminal penalties for gun possession on campus. That way they could take swift action and separate the firearm from its owner, Longo said.

If possessing a firearm on campus was made illegal, police could seize the weapon while investigating the matter.

In explaining his veto decision, Youngkin wrote that universities “already have the authority to regulate their respective campuses, including implementing firearms prohibitions.”

Longo said that while he respects the governor’s role in the process and hopes to continue working with him on the matter, he is disappointed by the decision.

As for Youngkin’s claim that universities can already prohibit guns?

“University policy does not have the force of law,” Longo told The Daily Progress. “Nor does it provide the remedies we were seeking or afford for the full investigative processes that come with a criminal investigation.”

Longo said he explained that when he testified before the General Assembly and in conversations he’s had with the governor’s staff.

Callsen too was “disappointed” by Youngkin’s decision.

The bill, she told The Daily Progress, “was advocated for by campus law enforcement with the specific goal in mind to protect college students and faculty and give campus police the proper tools to address gun violence on campus.”

Youngkin claimed that by vetoing the bill he was allowing for consideration of differences across regions and the “unique circumstances” of the commonwealth’s many students.

“This legislation does not adequately consider the numerous variations in Virginia’s diverse geographic, cultural, and societal norms across different regions of the Commonwealth,” Youngkin wrote.

That line makes little sense to Deeds.

“I mean, what’s he talking about?” Deeds asked. “What is he talking about?”

Dana Schrad, director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, took it to mean that Youngkin is putting the rights of hunters over the safety of college campuses.

“He may not understand how university policy doesn’t help when law enforcement conducts a criminal investigation and needs a warrant to search for a weapon in campus housing,” Schrad told The Daily Progress. “Our campus chiefs are disappointed in this veto.”

This marks the second time a bill like this has failed. Deeds was able to pass a similar version in the Senate last year, but it was killed in a Republican-controlled House of Delegates subcommittee; the House version of that bill, introduced by former Del. Sally Hudson, another Charlottesville Democrat, was also killed by a House committee. This time the proposed legislation actually made it to the governor’s desk, a victory for Deeds and Democrats in the General Assembly, but the result is ultimately the same.

While Deeds was able to get Republican support for the legislation last session, this time around he acknowledged that both his and Callsen’s bills were partisan.

“That was a cue for the governor to veto the legislation, I guess, that and the fact that the gun lobby was all stirred up about it,” Deeds said. “This is something I wish they’d done a deeper dig on and put some thought into. This is a bill that should have been signed.”

Gun violence on college campuses has become a focus of Charlottesville’s delegation in Richmond after UVa student Christopher Jones was witnessed shooting and killing three of his classmates on a chartered bus coming back from a field trip to D.C. the night of Nov. 13, 2022. Multiple firearms were later found in Jones’ dormitory.

“If a search warrant had been issued when there were suspicions raised about the alleged shooter, maybe that search warrant could’ve turned up the guns that were later found in his residence,” Deeds said.

“The governor’s veto message is totally off base. He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t get it,” Deeds continued. “I’m disappointed, but I’m not shocked.”


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